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Radio Readers BookByte: Orange Wine

Meagan Zampieri / Norton, Kansas
He brought home the alto saxophone. I was so pleased. So proud. My sweet, sweet boy, growing and mellowing into himself. I stood staring with joy, and gentleness, in reverence.

Greetings, Radio Readers, I’m Meagan Zampieri, here in Norton, KS. I hope you’re having a wonderful Autumn … Myself, as I read these selections from our Fall Read—Food and Story, I have appreciated the opportunity to reflect and write about the most important things in my life. Which is that

I am growing a son.

I keep coming back to that thought –after reading Five Quarters of the Orange, the story of a young girl’s life during the Nazi occupation of France. Joanne Harris is crafty, creating empathy for those who aided the Third Reich’s occupation of the French countryside.  

There is a metaphor that Framboise, the grown-child narrator, uses mid book—describing her mother’s parenting style. That she treated her children like trees in her orchard. That you plant them and feed them, trim them back often and correctly, and they will grow strong and true. Clip them back. Pluck their fruit.

It’s barbaric, no?

Yes. Children need planted. They need stability. If the soil is too dry, too sandy, the winds will blow them down in the first storm. Their roots need trained deeply, so their trunks are staked and guyed, just at the right height, flexibly, so they grow strong and learn to bend.  They have seasons of growth and seasons of pain; sometimes these are the same.

But a tree is not the right analogy. Children are not like trees. They need that staking and guying, the training of the roots downward so the wind will make them stronger. But then there is so much more to be done…to see to…  to watch, really.

Framboise understood wine as well as her mother did; she says:

“Wine, distilled and nurtured from bud into fruit and then through all the processes that make it what it is… deserves reverence. Joy. Gentleness.

Oh, she understood wine, my mother. She understood the sweetening process, the fermentation, the seething and mellowing of life in the bottle, the darkening, the slow transformations, the birth of a new vintage in a bouquet of aromas like a magician’s bunch of paper flowers. If only she had had time and patience enough for us…” (p. 194-195).

The care and craft. The utter powerlessness. The suddenness of their maturity.

Growing children… fermenting grapes, waiting for the wine to cherish…

Children are more like wine, from the start of planting the grapeseed, and training the plant, to the watching, and the waiting, and the surprise…

My son, 10 years, spent the summer excited about beginning band at the start of this year. He talked to me every week, at least once, about how cool it was going to be to play the saxophone, and he’s also learning guitar, and he was so excited about changing classes and experiencing this coming year. And BAND. He was so looking forward to it that he double checked twice with his teacher about it.

Then on the first day of band, the second day of school, he walked in, sat down, and then stood up and left.

He told me, later that evening, after I had suddenly remembered how special was this day and asked him about it, “Oh, Mom. I… I didn’t go. I went. But I left.” And I couldn’t speak, stunned by his abrupt turnabout. I stood, and I started cleaning the kitchen. I called a friend, and I bawled for 10 minutes before I could rationally discuss with him the horribleness of this decision he made.

In the end, with arguments for college scholarships and utter lack of later opportunity because of where we live in rural America, because of my personal story of never even having the option to learn… He admitted that he made a mistake and he wanted to try again if the teacher would let him, which OF COURSE he would—band directors ALWAYS want the kid in the room. He went back and he stayed, and he brought home the alto saxophone, and he posed for extra pictures because he wasn’t holding it cool enough the first few times.

I was so pleased. So proud. My sweet, sweet boy, growing and mellowing into himself… I stand staring with joy, and gentleness, in reverence.